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The Human Rights Initiative is a joint effort of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs to support interdisciplinary engaged research and teaching in the field of human rights with a goal of strengthening practice and the profession overall. The Initiative arises out of years of collaborative and engaged research by faculty who work and teach on topics related to human rights. 

The Human Rights Initiative receives recurring funds from the Provost's office to support grants of up to $50,000 for faculty-led interdisciplinary human rights research. Led by a group of senior faculty, the Human Rights Initiative Research Fund provides direct research funding to University of Minnesota faculty to carry out human rights projects addressing three Grand Challenges outlined in the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMTC) strategic plan:

  • Advancing health through tailored solutions
  • Fostering just and equitable societies
  • Enhancing community capacity for a changing world

The funds will support new and ongoing faculty research efforts, seed grant proposals, and graduate student projects that promote the human rights aspects of those themes. Our objective is to support our faculty to make a big impact by providing substantial funding for engaged human rights research and related outreach.

At least one principal investigator (PI) on the project must be a faculty member in CLA or the Humphrey School. The funds may support student involvement, either from the researcher's home discipline or from the pool of graduate students enrolled in the new Master of Human Rights, jointly administered by CLA and Humphrey. The Human Rights Initiative encourages proposals that use an interdisciplinary research approach and engage with external partners. Successful proposals will also include a plan to extend the research results to non-specialist audiences, including communities and publics, human rights activists and practitioners, and policy makers.

In 2017 the Human Rights Initiative awarded its first five grants to support outstanding interdisciplinary faculty proposals for human rights research in the humanities, social sciences and public policy. 

  • Lisa Hilbink (political science): Equal Rights & Unequal Remedies: Understanding Citizen Perceptions of and Engagement with the Judicial System
  • Greta Friedemann-Sanchez (HHH public policy): Family Commissioners: Fostering Justice, Security and Peace in Colombian Families in the Post-Conflict Era
  • VV Ganeshananthan (English): Collected Writings on Sri Lanka
  • Cosette D. Creamer (political science): Do Self-Reporting Regimes Matter? The Impact of Dynamic Regulatory Processes in International Human Rights Law
  • Patrick J. McNamara (history): From IDPs to Refugees: Forced Migration in El Salvador

Read more about the funded projects.


The review committee will consider the following criteria when reviewing applications. We realize, however, that the range of this call for proposals is broad and individual proposals will very likely not address all criteria listed here. See further guidelines below.

  • Will the research make significant contributions to the understanding or protection of human rights globally or locally?
  • Does the research promise to be of high quality, and will it help build academic knowledge in the field of human rights?
  • Will the results be published in high-impact scholarly or professional venues, or support artistic work? 
  • Is the research aimed at laying the groundwork for a larger, future grant proposal?
  • Utilizing the lens of human rights, does the research interact with one of the University’s Grand Challenges themes? Specifically, will the research address the persistent inequalities that undermine human dignity and well-being?
  • Will the work further scholarly knowledge across the disciplines?
  • Does the research team have a clear, practical plan to promote their results to non-specialist audiences, including communities and publics, human rights activists and practitioners, and policy audiences, broadly conceived?
  • Does the research involve graduate student academic or professional training?
  • Does the proposed research position the University of Minnesota as a leader in important human rights debates at the local, national, or international level?


Applications will be accepted from University of Minnesota tenured/tenure-track faculty, contract faculty, and those with P&A appointments whose scholarly research is in the field of human rights. New faculty must begin their appointment by the start date of the grant. At least one PI must be a member of the faculty of CLA or the Humphrey School; however, partnerships which reflect interdisciplinary reach are encouraged, including with faculty across other colleges and universities as well as with external partners who have important knowledge on human rights issues. Applications for the current cycle are due October 16, 2017. For further information, please read the current RFP or contact